‘Communication’ … overworked and underpaid

Homo sapiens are the great Communicators.  That’s what apparently makes us more advanced than all the other animal species on Earth—we can talk, write, sing, dance and draw pictures to describe what we are trying to say.  And we can conjure up a plethora of technological and physical aids to help us.

So one might say it’s ironic that, of all the animal species, we suffer the most from misunderstanding and lack of communication.  Other animals may have what we call simple, primitive communication tools, but they never pick up the wrong end of the stick.  When a group of meerkats spies an approaching predator and starts screeching and jittering around, old mate foraging on his own down the hill doesn’t just roll his eyes and mutter ‘Women!’ under his breath, he hightails it out of there.

I’ve written before about misunderstandings between Humans and the Earth (Communication Breakdown) and even between different demographics of our own species (The Great Divide).  If we are really so mentally advanced, where does this plague of miscommunication begin?  It’s very easy to blame someone or something else, and primitive Homo species most likely developed finger-pointing skills before speech or even fire-making.

Some might say the Media can be blamed, either directly or indirectly, for many of the problems in this world. The institution of News, innocently begun once upon a time to purvey timely local information to the masses, has degenerated into a schoolyard mêlée of drama queens and bullies trying to outdo each other, steal each other’s homework and win the Most Popular award.  The quality, accuracy and consequences of the story being told are shoved aside, like the quiet kid in the playground.

Many corners of our communities have suffered from these flawed stories, with companies losing business, court cases ensuing and even people’s personal lives being ruined.  The Earth doesn’t escape either.  Media reportage of many recent environmental issues has been sensationalised, misinterpreted and even downright wrong (see Combustible Debates).  We have evolved to thrive on Drama, our brains trained to switch off in the absence of superlatives.

However, it may not be entirely the Media’s fault.  Educational institutions were once considered honourable beacons of Learning.  Now they too have become casualties of the modern Lawmakers—Political Correctness, Sponsorship and Kudos.

A recent investigation into the language used to teach Ecology in higher education found that Nature is consistently portrayed as a ‘resource’ in commonly prescribed environmental texts, and that the general impression left by an education in ecological or environmental sciences is one that “fundamentally … separate[s] humans from nature” and “perpetuates the idea that humans exist outside of its laws”.

It is no wonder that we have got ourselves into the mess we are in.  What many people call the more ‘primitive’ or ancient Homo cultures (Native Americans, Aboriginal Australians, Ancient Egyptians, Indigenous South Americans etc.) had an unsurpassed understanding and respect for the Earth in all its forms.  They recognised and appreciated that we exist BECAUSE of Nature, not the other way around.

We are lucky to have evolved such advanced communication skills. But are we taking this ability for granted, if we don’t consider the true meaning and consequences of the messages we give?

© Manu Saunders 2010

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